Such a lovely time of year, Yule...but all of the Sabbats have their own magic, don't they? I must admit that this Sabbat feels extra special to me because the larger non-Pagan community is also celebrating their various holidays and the feeling is inclusive, bountiful, and loving. It's the one time when our Sabbat coincides nicely with a reverent holiday recognized by the government in the U.S. (as opposed to Samhain, when Pagans are reverent and those who celebrate Halloween are...not).
How will you celebrate Yule this year? I don't believe that there necessarily needs to be a lot of hoopla surrounding holy days unless one has a strong desire or reason for there to be a big celebration. Some of the most spiritually fulfilling Sabbats are acknowledged in the heart, silently, or with practices that don't outwardly appear "witchy" to others at all. Those of us who have communities will be making a big deal of each Sabbat because it is part of being in a community. But if you are alone, take heart. Your experience of the Winter Solstice can fill your heart with joy, and given that the larger communities are celebrating Christmas and Hannukah and Kwaanza, you can do a few things openly and not worry that you'll be 'suspect' if you're in the broom closet right now.
Here are some "private" Yule acknowledgments:
1. Hang mistletoe for "fertility" in the coming year. Fertility doesn't just mean babies!
2. Hang clove studded oranges in the house to bring bounty.
3. Hang swags of evergreen in your home to welcome in the Winter Fey until Imbolc, when traditionally the swags must be cleared before spring cleaning.
4. Light a candle at midnight on Solstice and welcome the infant Sun.
5. Raise power in the hours before midnight on Solstice to aid the Mother in Her travail with Her Sun Child.
Here's what my community usually does for Yule:
1. We enjoy a "kids' Yule" where Holly King and Mother Holle show up in full regalia with presents for all the kids after a big pancake breakfast.
2. Adults in our larger community gather for an "adults' Yule" that is not a ritual but a social gathering where food is eaten and presents exchanged if desired. It's a time for the local covens in our large Tradition to connect and visit.
3. Each of the covens has a private Yule ritual.
In my coven, we start earlier in the afternoon with a cookie exchange and Yule crafts, such as making clove studded oranges, stringing cranberries, making evergreen swags with lovingly harvested pine boughs, and drinking lots of soft cider and coffee! Then later we have our ritual in which, after casting and calling in the Goddess and God, we light 13 candles on our Yule log, each representing a moon in the coming year. We name the moons and call forth their blessings using the "traditional" moon names. They are:
January: Capricorn Moon, Wolf Moon
February: Aquarius Moon, Storm Moon
March: Pisces Moon, Chaste Moon
April: Aries Moon, Seed Moon, Sowing Moon
May: Taurus Moon, Hare Moon
June: Gemini Moon, Dyad Moon, Honey Moon
July: Cancer Moon, Meadow Moon, Mead Moon
August: Leo Moon, Wort Moon
September: Virgo Moon, Barley Moon
October: Libra Moon, Blood Moon
November: Scorpio Moon, Snow Moon
December: Sagittarius Moon, Oak Moon
Blue Moon: 13th Moon, Wild Moon
We tell the story of the Holly King and the Oak King, Lords of Fey who rule the dark and light halves of the year. They battle on the Winter and Summer Solstices, with the Oak King reigning triumphant at Yule and the Holly King winning at Summer Solstice. Of course, as the young Sun God is being born shortly after midnight on Winter Solstice, the light half of the year begins with His birth (reigned over by the Oak King). At Summer Solstice, the nights become longer after the longest day, so the dark half of the year begins then (Reigned over by the Holly King).
Holly King brings gifts to all before retiring to rest after his long battle on the night of the Winter Solstice, and we leave snacks out for him to replenish his strength. Hmmmmm.....The stories of the Holly King and the Oak King are very old, even if Wicca is not. In the ancient Celtic stories, the Dark and Light Lords battle eternally for the hand of the Spring Maiden each year. The stories go back to Neolithic times, though the names will change.
Other things that Pagans might do for Yule include "wassailing a tree," in which a fruit bearing tree is sung to on Solstice and "fed" a mixture of ale and fruit juice with spices ("wassail") to encourage life to return and prosperity to come in the form of a good harvest for the coming year. Sometimes cranberry garlands are strung in the branches to feed the birds as well.
Whatever you do to welcome the Newborn Sun on Solstice, know that you gather in spirit with all of us. Whether you simply light a candle and welcome the coming warmth or you are leading a large community gathering, it's all the same. Merry Yule, all. Hope the next few weeks are filled with joy for you and yours!